SOUTH BEND — Jarrett Patterson, still in uniform and unwittingly with a blade of grass stuck to his cheek, apologized for sweating profusely in his first go-round with the media since arriving at Notre Dame largely underrated 15 months ago.
It wasn’t nerves as much as it was practicing in a record-high temp of 90 degrees earlier in the week on perhaps the final day that the term “heat index” will have any relevance in this part of the country in 2019.
Even on cooler days Patterson sweats, literally and figuratively — on purpose and without contrition.
That’s how bad the sophomore from Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School, who came to Notre Dame with dreams of being the next left tackle in the school’s rich lineage of first-round draft picks, now wants to be the next great center.
Collectively, the Notre Dame offensive line will push to continue an evolution that more matches lofty preseason expectations for the unit when No. 9 Notre Dame (3-1) faces a Bowling Green team (1-3) featuring its seventh head coach (Scot Loeffler) — actual or interim — since December of 2013.
Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. EDT, and NBC — sans its controversial SkyCam for this week only — has the telecast.
Patterson, the No. 2 offensive tackle as a true freshman last season and a prodigy at that position, is the only new face among the five starting linemen
“Whatever it takes to help the team win was going through my mind at the time,” said Patterson, who was approached by Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn about the position switch in January, when the players returned to school for winter semester.
He knew Quinn’s philosophy with grooming linemen mirrored that of Harry Hiestand, ND’s offensive line coach when ND started recruiting the three-star prospect who had initially verbally committed to Arizona State.
That is, get your best five linemen on the field instead of being a slave to the positions in which they had the most experience.
So that’s how former tackle Quenton Nelson became an All-America guard, and likewise Nick Martin became a second-round NFL Draft choice at center. In fact, all five of ND’s current starting linemen came to Notre Dame as tackles and, at the very least, practiced at the position for a year.
“My athleticism, I feel like I can move pretty well laterally,” the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Patterson said of his strengths that sync up with center. “I think that’s the biggest thing that served me well so far.”
What was sort of supposed to be an open audition in the spring for the starting center position, with Patterson an early favorite to replace three-year starter Sam Mustipher, kind of ended before it started. Patterson was that good.
“If Jarrett had to play for us at tackle last year, I wouldn’t have great concerns,” offensive coordinator Chip Long told the Tribune in June. “He’s just the same guy every day. Worker, grinder, does almost everything right.
“Makes mistakes, but it doesn’t cost him the next 10-15 plays. Just a really steady young man, and a great player. Great athlete, great size, power, strength. And I was like, ‘damn, we’re going to put his (butt) at center, and see what he can do.’”
That doesn’t mean there weren’t some growing pains, starting with simply learning to snap for the first time ever. In fact, Patterson said the only position he has ever played in organized football except for left tackle before this spring was right tackle.
“You’re in contact a lot faster instead of tackle,” Patterson said. “Even in pass setting, you’re going to be met with contact right away, so that was the biggest thing.”
That is until the actual games started, and Patterson had a few “welcome to college football moments.” Extensive film study and extra sweat in practice are making those fewer and farther between.
“I just think being more consistent, gaining that confidence, just being consistent every play,” he said. “That’s the next step I’m trying to take right now.”
Patterson credits Quinn with helping him take that step. He was the first offensive line recruit, in fact, who committed to Hiestand’s successor, and he did so while fending off late recruiting pushes from UCLA and Michigan.
“Him being with coach Kelly for so long (the two coached together at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati), he kind of understands the offense and he does a really good job of teaching scheme,” Patterson said of Quinn, “which has really helped me understand the playbook so fast.
“My parents really enjoyed him (during the recruiting process), which was obviously huge. And he just came off as someone who was really caring.
“He’s someone you go to, and you sit in his office and he doesn’t feel like a football coach. He just seems like a regular person you talk to. That was one of the big things for me.”
Notes and numbers
• Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea spent one season at Bowling Green, as its linebacker coach, in 2012. The Falcons finished sixth nationally in total defense that year, one spot ahead of Notre Dame.
The current Bowling Green defense, under former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, comes into its Saturday matchup with the Irish ranked 111th out of 130 FBS teams.
• Speaking of 2012, that’s the last time Loeffler and VanGorder had coached together before this season. Loeffler was Auburn’s offensive coordinator and VanGorder presided over the defense in what was the first year at the school for both of them.
The Tigers finished 79th in total defense that year and 115th in total offense. The entire staff was let go at season’s end, including head coach Gene Chizik, just two years removed from a national title after going 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC.
• After Notre Dame’s 35-20 win over Virginia, Notre Dame’s odds of winning the national title this season improved slightly from 80-1 to 66-1. Ian Book, however, is now off the board in the Heisman Trophy hunt.
Michigan, a team the Irish visit on Oct. 26, is among the 13 teams with better odds than the Irish, per www.betonline.ag.
Among the others pruned from a Heisman betting field that now stands at eight were Georgia running back D’Andre Swift and Clemson running back Travis Etienne.
• Notre Dame running backs have gone 1,186 carries without losing a fumble, dating back to Nov. 21, 2015 against Boston College. It is the longest active streak in the FBS.
• Bowling Green head coach Scot Loeffler and Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston were teammates and roommates at the University of Michigan from 1993-96.
Loeffler played quarterback, while Elston was an outside linebacker.